On March 4, groups from around the world will celebrate Open Data Day by showcasing how they are using open data in their communities. This annual event is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society.
Image: Open Data Day
As lack of trust between the public and institutions continues to hover at an all-time low, opening up data is a crucial element for rebuilding public trust. For too long, obfuscation and lack of transparency has resulted in cynicism and declining rates of civic participation. Open data provides citizens with gain greater insight into government service delivery and spending, and empower them to hold decision-makers accountable.
Access to open data also has significant economic impacts. A study by the European Data Portal found that the accumulated cost savings from more efficient public service delivery is projected to be €1.7 billion in 2020. For example, since the Dutch Ministry of Education has released its education-related data online, the public is now able to look up information at their own convenience. In turn, the amount of time staff spend fielding questions has decreased, increasing productivity and ultimately reducing costs.
Open data has many practical uses and applications for the daily lives of citizens. Access to open data also encourages innovation and supports the creation of technologies which are user-friendly for non-technical users. For example, municipal open data about wheelchair ramps that are available in buildings across the city can be made into an app that maps the most accessible routes, or be incorporated into an existing app such as Wheelmap. Such uses of open data can lead to significant benefits and increased convenience for community members.
Keeping Citizens Informed with Open Data
Here at PlaceSpeak, we believe that being informed is the first step to being empowered to participate meaningfully and make and impact on the communities where people live, work and play.
Open Data BC’s survey of the the 10 Most Wanted Municipal Datasets in Canada found that people were the most interested in learning about rezoning applications, land use changes, development permit applications, and transit data. Currently, traditional means of informing the public about these changes (e.g. newspaper ads, flyers, signboards, etc.) are inconvenient or outdated, and people frequently complain that they weren’t informed.
Therefore, PlaceSpeak developed a system for automating place-based notifications about proposed land use changes, including rezoning and development permit applications. In cities which provide land-use change open data in machine-readable format, PlaceSpeak can pull that information and deliver it directly to residents via email.
Once a PlaceSpeak user has verified their home address, notifications about proposed land-use changes in their area are pushed to their inbox. Users can customize their own notification settings based on frequency, distance and keyword settings – ensuring that they are only receiving information that is relevant and of interest to them.
Being informed is only the first step to getting more involved in the local decision-making process. Residents can follow the progress and updates from specific proposed projects. If a threshold of 10 interested parties is reached, the City is notified with the option to conduct a formal public consultation.
As local governments make more open data available to the public, there is even greater potential for keeping people notified about changes and happenings in their neighbourhood. Additional types of place-based notifications are anticipated in the future, such as street closures and film activity permits.
What open data initiatives are you seeing in your cities and communities? Share them in the comments below.